Health experts say the shortages of vaccine doses in South Africa pose a big challenge in terms of the roll-out programme.

Epidimiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim says the Johnson and Johnson batches that have been disposed off is a major blow to the country’s efforts to increase the number of vaccinations per day.

It recently emerged that some vaccine batches awaiting distribution from the Gqeberha Aspen plant in the Eastern Cape were contaminated.

Karim says the waiving of trips would also alleviate difficulty of accessing vaccines.

“The biggest challenge turns out not to be our infrastructure and capability on the ground. Our problem is we can’t get hold of enough doses,” says Karim.

“The situation with doses that were manufactured and then shipped through to Aspen in the Eastern Cape for bottling now turns out that was contaminated and it can not be used. So that puts a real big spanner in the work. That set us back quite a bit,” Karim added.

In Conversation: Professor Salim Abdool Karim

Meanwhile, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) as well as the Acting Minister of Health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane assured South Africans that the contaminated COVID-19 vaccine doses will not be released in South Africa.

Sahpra CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela is pleading with South Africans not to panic as there are emergency plans in place.

Semete-Makokotlela says, “The batches at the Aspen sites that have been finished, the ones that were in question, those will not be released, they can not be made available to the public. However, these are doses from the factory that have been cleared that will be made available. We will make sure that the country gets the correct batches of vaccine.”

Sahpra CEO on contaminated J&J vaccines:

‘Vaccines will not be compromised’

Sahpra confirmed that 300 000 doses that have been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration will be released for shipment to SA. The product regulator says it’s unclear when the doses will be shipped to the country. They have also indicated that they are unsure whether Aspen will be reimbursed for the millions they have spent on the manufacturing of the doses, that will go unused.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will now be stored for four-and-half months instead of three months — at a temperature of 2.8 degrees Celsius.